Why, Princess Jellyfish, why must you do this to me?! I had such high expectations for you! You started off so gloriously, but now I feel like I don’t even know what you’ve become!
Okay… Mildly, over-dramatic, burble has come to an end. Let’s talk about the manga series called Princess Jellyfish written by the talented and gorgeous, Akiko Higashimura. Like most Japanese graphic novel serials that I encounter, I first heard of this by watching the anime when it made its way to Netflix last year (or quite possibly the year prior). It was a wonderfully, gut-achy experience as I laughed my tushy off like you won’t believe. In those 11 episodes, I went from having a very craptastic week to feeling good and refreshed, and even finding a bit of optimism beneath my Scooby-Doo pillow. Princess Jellyfish was just that sort of show, it made you feel pleasant.
I caught sight of the manga on one of my numerous manga-reading apps, on one of my numerous ridiculously addicting electronic knickknacks. I recalled how much I adored the show, which thus led me on my reading journey. Before I jump into the guts of subjective opinion, let me give you a brief synopsis. No spoilers, I promise!
Tsukimi Kurashita (our floundering lady lead) is a young girl who also happens to be an otaku for jellyfish. Her residence consists of a home filled with other ladies with their own unusually specific, geeky interests. None of the ladies have actual jobs (except for one who is a manga artist and the alpha of the pack of crazies). They’re all known as NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training). They receive allowances from their parents/relatives to survive in their day-to-day theatrics. One evening while on a stroll back home, Trsukimi has a chance encounter at a local pet store with an extraordinarily beautiful and charming young woman. Plot points unravel and we discover that this lovely young lady is in fact a handsome young man! This species of human is strictly forbidden from Tsukimi’s residence as all the ladies have formulated a pact to remain “virtuous” for life. Now the chunk of the story revolves around the fact that their residence is in a prime real estate location and these young ladies have to find a way to keep their home from getting demolished. The dapper gentleman, named Kuranosuke, decides to help them by creating dresses inspired by Tsukimi’s jellyfish drawings selling them in a high-fashion couture setting to raise money. A boisterous story unfolds from here on out.
Sorry, that summary got away from me, but I ensure you that knowing all of this beforehand will make it easier to understand the blubbering that I’m about to embark upon. You see, one of the aspects of Princess Jellyfish that I found wholly alluring was the concept. It’s very original, doesn’t have the unnecessary splatter of fan service, and the characters are so much like normal people, that you could genuinely (and sometimes sadly) understand their quirks. The idea of a young lady’s obsession with jellyfish combined with a cross-dressing man’s fashion prowess is quite brilliant and delightfully different.
Before I jump into story facets, I want to take a minute to say how much I loved the art!!! It is one of the most beautiful manga serials I have ever read. The pages are so crisp and clean, even when there is chaos going on. The details are refined and drawn with such care that it took my breath away. Higashimura’s ability to draw is astounding and exceedingly adroit. There is sophistication and elegance in her artwork, even if it’s a comedy of this caliber. Okay, moving onwards…
Tsukimi is not your average josei protagonist. While she’s not in high-school, she’s still only 18 years old. She isn’t a tiny little thing with perfect shimmering hair, and a smile to make all the men flaunt to her thighs. She’s a chubby gal, with freckles, frizzy hair (LOTS of hair), glasses, and a severely lacking sense of style. I look at her and I can see the average person, which is a nice feeling to have. Even her “nunnery” flatmates are all misshapen with physical “flaws.” I honestly cannot remember the last manga series that I have read where this has been the case. You may not think that something as minor as this could be construed as a “big deal,” but it truly is one. I feel like by having characters who are imperfect, the author is saying that it’s okay to be imperfect, which is a concept that seems to be lost entirely on society today.
I mentioned high above at the top of this mountain of words that Princess Jellyfish was gut-achingly hilarious, and I stand by my statement. It really is very funny…but only for about the first ten volumes. The mediocre things that can make the women of Amamizukan (the name of the residence) bust out into random bits of stagecraft is laughable. These particular moments are spread throughout the series, more so in the beginning than later on, and usually refer to a lot of Japanese pop culture (but there are some clever Western ones too!). I really enjoyed how the author unapologetically makes fun of the social-awkwardness of the characters. She does it in a way that says, “Yes, I am ridiculous in my nature, but it’s okay for me to be this way because it makes me comfortable in my own skin.” This goes back to the whole “it’s okay to be imperfect” thing I was talking about earlier.
What I didn’t like about Princess Jellyfish, is how predictable and repetitive it became. Every single time that the crew of women had a glimmer of hope for achieving their overall goal, or a positive path towards it, they get crushed down. I know that stuff like this can be necessary for the development of a good story, but when it happens every goddamn time, and in progressively predictable (or outrageous) ways, it can get exhausting. The manga is still ongoing, mind you, but it’s current point is just so dumb that I don’t even plan on continuing with it. That’s how bad it has gotten! I feel as if the author is stretching out the series just so she can make Kuranosuke realize some hefty emotions that he’s in denial about, maybe even buy him some time to act out on said emotions. The same could be said about Tsukimi as well. The obstacle that she chose to make all of this happen just doesn’t seem to fit with the story at all. I found it to be so terribly out of left field and completely unnecessary for the series. There were so many other ways she could have created the conflict needed to help with their emotion-finding progress. I enjoyed the fact that Princess Jellyfish didn’t rely on sex for storytelling. But Higashimura is going down that atypical josei route and it’s ridiculous. It all comes off as being the result of excruciatingly poor planning.
This is around the time the humor also begins to diminish. The nuns at Amamizukan and their melodramatics also become very stale and foreseeable. They make an idiotic choice (for plot progression), which they finally start to feel guilty about, yet the way they do so is very uncharacteristic, giving it a vibe of irrelevancy. There are other things that also began to irk me. Kuranosuke’s brother has contact with someone who is very important to our male star, but it never explains why, at least not well-enough for it make any sort of sense. It may come up later in the story, but at this point it would be completely out of nowhere for that to happen.
Long ass story coming to its end, when you hit volume ten or so, all of the elements that made Princess Jellyfish so enjoyable become a hot mess of regurgitation, only it’s attired differently for appeal. Everything from volume one unto ten is really fun, worthy of time and effort. But afterwards, it provides you with the exhausted essence that a chore would. I really wanted to give this series a full five out of five. I mean, come on, the expectations were so grand and marvelous!! However, I am inclined to give it three jellies outta five.